Your Priorities Are Only as Good as What You De-Prioritize

A few days ago I shared a personal practice that has been really valuable — the even-over statement. If you missed that article, the basic idea is that nothing is truly a priority unless you’re willing to sacrifice something else in the name of it. Using an even-over statement forces you to articulate that tradeoff in a way that can really help put a fine point on what you’re trying to do.

My three even-over statements for the first part of 2017 are:

  1. Sincerity e/o Irony

  2. Good Weeks e/o Good Days

  3. Consistent e/o Stochastic

I took a first stab at articulating what these actually mean to me in the original article, but upon further re-reading I realized I didn’t go into much detail about the “even over” part of each statement. It’s important to remember that an even-over statement is only as powerful as the good thing that’s being de-prioritized in each statement. To that end, I wanted to describe the deliberate tradeoff I’m making by adhering to these statements.

Sincerity even over Irony

As I mentioned before, the impetus of this even over statement comes from this excellent video from Will Schoder. I think part of the reason that it resonates so much with me is because it helped me realize how much of my own conduct and sense of humor leans on the ironic. It’s easy for me to be self-deprecating or cynical (which I consider cousins of irony) when I’m trying to be funny. It’s a.) too easy b.) a way to avoid being vulnerable and c.) frankly, not that funny.

Defaulting to sincerity does not come easily to me and yet I really value the people in my life who seem to be able to do a good job of it. I want to be more like them. I suspect it will make me a more pleasant person to be around, make me more effective in my work, and probably just improve my quality of life.

Good Weeks even over Good Days

I’m a huge believer in being mindful about how I spend my time and attention. I try not to let distractions interfere when I’m doing meaningful work — I mean, I read Deep Work by Cal Newport three times last year. Doing the right stuff, whether that’s taking care of myself physically or making sure I’m moving forward important work is central to my identity and sense of well-being. Unfortunately, this has often manifested in being way too hard on myself on a daily basis. It’s pretty unreasonable to expect every day to be amazing.

Even though it feels wrong I’m going to experiment with broadening my self-reflective (self-critical) horizon out to a weekly basis. Tied to this experiment is the realization that I almost always feel like I never get enough done on a daily basis but often surprise myself with how much I’m able to accomplish in an entire week. With that in mind, this even over statement is designed to bring me into alignment with that realization.

Consistent even over Stochastic

When I think of being stochastic I think of two things that are pretty positive: spontaneity and high intensity intervals. Being spontaneous is fun. People like spontaneous people (for the most part). Working in high intensity intervals aligns with much of my philosophy about how people are able to focus and develop a deep work practice. But for the time being I need to set these positive elements of a more stochastic working or self-care style aside and focus on doing the small, boring, yet absolutely vital things more consistently.

Even over statements don’t work if the thing you’re giving up isn’t difficult or intrinsically “good” in some way. In some respects, I think the power of this exercise and practice doesn’t come from the front half of these statements (the thing you want more of) but from selecting the right attribute to disengage with.

Only then do these “priorities” actually begin to be actual Priorities.

This article is part of a personal experiment where I write and publish something in 30 minutes or less (nearly) every day. Find a typo? Have a question or comment? Leave a comment below or talk to me on Twitter.